Friday, August 27, 2010

Excuse Me, but Where's the "bon" in Bon Temps?

Being "let down" by something involves having pretty high expectations about whatever "it" is at the outset--or at least going into it with some high hopes--only to be met, in the end, with disappointment.

Bearing that in mind, I actually wasn't as let down as I thought I'd be by Dead in the Family, Charlaine Harris' tenth (and most recent) entry in what has become her inordinately-popular series featuring Bon Temps, Louisiana waitress/telepath/lover-of-supernatural-beings Sookie Stackhouse (and a whole slew of those friendly and not-so-friendly "supes"; namely vampires, werewolves and other shapeshifters, and an assortment of decidedly un-Tinkerbell-like fairies).

After more or less enjoying the down-homey charm mixed with mayhem of the first seven books in this series, I was really let down by the eighth and ninth (due to their scattershot, everything-but-the-kitchen sink plotting and a very different--and considerably less-enjoyable--"tone"). I was so disappointed, in fact, that I didn't even plan on reading this latest entry--and still wouldn't have done so, were it not for a good friend's... erm, insistence (i.e., making sure that a mutual friend mailed me a loaner copy)... all of which leads me back to my earlier assessment--that I wasn't, technically, quite as let down by it as I expected to be.

If you're looking for a sterling recommendation for this one, though, I'm afraid you're gonna have to look elsewhere. I'm trying very hard to find some good things... some not-so-awful things... to say about it; really, I am. At least the finished product is somewhat more-coherent (and cohesive) than the ones immediately preceeding it, so, hey... that's something, right? (Okay, that's pretty much the extent of my positivity. I tried.)

What say we start with a little recap, eh? Comely, mid-20s Sookie Stackhouse works as a waitress in a bar in a podunk Southern hamlet. Her telepathic abilities, long problematic when it comes to any sort of relationship, are suddenly (for the first time, ever) not an issue when she meets new-vampire-in-town (and new neighbor), Bill Compton, who quickly becomes Boyfriend #1. (Sex, secrets, and squabbles follow.) The course of true love is a rocky one, though, and--due to some shady shenanigans on Bill's part, as well as owing a little something to the near-constant presence of his boss, the even-more-charismatic (and older! more powerful! wealthier! dangerous!) vampire, Eric Northman--Bill and Sookie's relationship eventually peters out. After dallying with a couple of other hunky supes (a local werewolf coulda-been-a-boyfriend, and the roaming were-tiger who is briefly ensconced as Boyfriend #2)--and enduring assorted skirmishes, wars, a bombing, a fire or two, and lots of senseless deaths--Sookie finds herself in a vampiric marriage to the local "sheriff", Eric (aka Boyfriend #3). (Insert angst-y stuff about their "marriage". His past. Her job. His job. Her relatives. His bosses. Her friends. Etc.) About this time there's also a vampire take-over, the Weres "come out of the closet", and Sookie endures both an annoying FBI probe and a vicious personal attack by some nasty fairies... and that pretty much covers the first nine books.

So, when Dead in the Family picks up, Sookie is still recovering--physically, mentally, and emotionally--from the gruesome torture she underwent at the hands of the evil fairies. Bill, gravely injured while trying to rescue her, is also in a bad place, noticeably weakened and depressed. Eric is preoccupied with fitting into the new vampire regime. As though all of this weren't enough to deal with--which, naturally, it isn't, in Sookie's over-stuffed (like too much sausage in a cocktail frank casing) world--she also loses her roommate (the friendly witch who finally--conveniently--moves back home), but gains a new one (her lonely fairy-cousin Claude). She finds herself in the midst of (Were) Pack business once more, when the local pack borrows her land for one of their monthly runs... and finds dead bodies on her property. She babysits another (dead) cousin's telepathic little boy. The FBI returns, with more questions. She tries to cope with the unexpected arrival of Eric's maker... and his younger brother (yet another big surprise). And, sort of beneath the surface, Sookie does a fair amount of worrying about her own mortality, and what that will mean for her and for her vampire partner down the road.

As with the last couple of books, there's just way too much shoehorned into this one, which leaves too many issues unsatisfactorily unresolved at book's end. Unfortunately, when the author does resolve something these days, her fall-back plan seems to be writing mass-killings of whatever characters she finds most tiresome... which is once again the case here. (While the gore isn't problematic for me, it seems sort of lazy--not to mention boring and predictable--to follow the same formula again and again. And again.)

Another problem is the lack of finesse when depicting communications between the various characters (meaning the ones who don't wind up victims of a staking, stabbing, or other unhappy ending, obviously). The conversations are stilted, and even Sookie's constant monologues sound forced--a far cry from the breezy, chatty tone of the early days. And, the "bad guys" (maybe that should be the "worse" guys, in a vampire book?) are incredibly one-dimensional; I (correctly) suspected from the get-go how things would play out for each of them.

Only Harris's die-hard fans are likely to be thrilled by any of the "filler", either, such as the long-awaited visit to Eric's house (the details of which weren't remotely surprising and thus, not terribly interesting) or the obligatory sex scenes (awkward and completely unsexy, unfortunately).

So, after thus ripping it apart, how can I possibly say I wasn't particularly let down by Dead in the Family? Simply because it was, actually, marginally better than the two books prior to it. (Yes, it was a very low bar that I'd set for it, but there you have it.)

Read this if you feel you must--or if someone nicely twists your arm--but try to keep those expectations low, won't you?

GlamKitty catnip mousie rating: 2 out of 5 mousies

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Taste of Freedom... or a Taste of Poison?

Maybe it's the near-total absence of any modern technology, or perhaps it's nothing more than the simple yearning for something totally different (the "grass is always greener" syndrome)... but whatever the reason, there's this special sort of magic that I often feel when reading something set in the long-ago past--especially if it's a past full of horses and castles. (No, I never once actually wished for a pony as a child... although I wouldn't have minded living in my very own castle for awhile. Of course, the lack of electricity and questionable indoor "plumbing" would have made the whole castle dream fall apart pretty quickly, so... yeah, it's probably for the best that particular wish was never fulfilled.)

A lot of people like to read about yesteryear because they think it evokes a more "innocent" time, but I disagree. After all, there's certainly no shortage of "bad stuff" going on in most historical books; for every gunshot wound, stabbing, bomb, or car chase you read about in a modern setting, you can find a comparable sword fight, beheading, burning at the stake, or chase on horseback in something set in a long-ago era, too. And, a lot of bad stuff has remained unchanged-- things like bare-knuckle brawls, sexual assaults, and abductions have always been a part of life. Evil and meanness have been around since time began.

Still, things often seem a little more interesting in an historical novel, and, until a few years ago, that would have meant one of only a couple things to me--either straight-up historical fiction, or a mystery/suspense story set in the past. Now, though, it might also mean a traditional fantasy novel... something I've only gradually become reacquainted with, of late. And, if I may shamelessly steal from Martha Stewart for a moment, it's "a good thing".

Don't get me wrong... there will never come a time when I don't love modern mysteries and suspenses, a really good spooky-creepy tale, an intelligent legal/medical/forensic thriller, a captivating Urban Fantasy, a much-loved classic (of course), or some other unclassifiable but thought-provoking tale. I'm just sort of... branching out, if you will.

My latest foray into fantasy was actually recommended several months ago by a very good friend, and--with apologies to her for taking forever to finally fish the book out of my TBR stack and read the darn thing--I'm happy to report that it was very good, indeed. So, with that I bring you the 2005 debut of Maria V. Snyder's Poison Study.

Much like my other favorites in this genre, the story itself is a fairly simple one. It centers around a young woman--Yelena--who has been imprisoned for approximately a year, awaiting her own death, after being found guilty of murdering her benefactor. As the day of her demise fast approaches, she's given a reprieve; if she agrees to perform the necessary tasks--learning all she can about various poisons, then putting her life at risk three times every single day thereafter, her life will be spared so that she can take over the, erm, recently-vacated job as food-taster for the country's leader. It's an important--albeit not highly-respected (nor particularly desirable)--position. Faced with an even-less appealing alternative, though, Yelena agrees. The story which follows depicts her learning curve as the newbie food-taster, as well as her fight to gain the respect of those around her. It's also the story of her struggle for survival, as the decision not to execute an accused murderer is a uniformly unpopular one.

There are multiple layers to the story which I can't get into (primarily because it's so much better if the details are allowed to unfold naturally as you read the book), but suffice it to say that Yelena herself is more than she first appears. The same can also be said for her new co-workers and associates, both the ones she counts as enemies and the ones who gradually become her friends.

What I appreciate more than anything else in Poison Study are the many shades of grey with which Snyder paints her story. Not one single character is all good... and only a few are all bad. For the most part, though, we see these characters just as Yelena does, and our perceptions change, along with hers, as situations unfold and actions take on new meanings. (If nothing else, this tale is a valuable exercise in learning not to judge too hastily.)

But what about the magical quality I rhapsodized over earlier? There's plenty of that here, too--although it sometimes takes a back seat to the meat of the story. One thing that bugs me in a lot of period pieces is when characters sound too "hip", but that really isn't the case in this instance (although the language is decidedly modern); here, the use of current vernacular serves to provide a better connection between the characters and the reader--and for me, the combination of extremely-relatable characters and a kind of gritty fairy tale setting works extremely well. So, too, do the politics and human-rights issues which form the heart of the story; their relevance is a pleasant surprise.

Poison Study is a pure fantasy, but it sort of transcends that, too, as it tackles some serious issues and shows some emotional depth. It's a love story wrapped up in a political intrigue enmeshed in a psychological drama which wends its way along a journey of self-actualization... all of it in a vaguely dreamy, mystical place just different enough from our own world to keep the magic alive.

GlamKitty catnip mousie rating: 4 out of 5 mousies

Sunday, August 15, 2010

How to Deal with Fluffy (or Tom or Sweetiepie or Whatever Cat You Have)

"And now, for something completely different..." I've always loved that bit from the days of Monty Python's Flying Circus, so today, I've decided to try my own version of "something completely different" (although it really shouldn't be completely unexpected... unless, of course, you're the sort to blindly scroll past the occasional pix of a certain luscious boycat who happens to have my undying devotion, in which case there's just no hope for you).

One of THE cutest--and flat-out coolest--informational/help books, ever, I bring you... The Cat Owner's Manual (Operating Instructions, Troubleshooting Tips, and Advice on Lifetime Maintenance). Touting itself as a "beginner's guide to feline technology", this is definitely not your run-of-the-mill cat book.

Hey, you, raising your eyebrows and wearing the skeptical expression... just stop that, right now. Take it from me, if you're a "cat person", there's a whole lot to like in this insanely-clever little book. (And, if you're more a "dog person" or a "little human [i.e. baby] person", there's a manual for you, as well--each of which I'm guessing is nearly as nifty.)

Authors Dr. David Brunner (veterinarian) and Sam Stall (cat-owner) take the titular "manual" part to heart, giving their book a genuine "how-to" look and feel, with a neat little twist--this one is actually easy to understand and, frequently, humorous--as it refers to felines like they're just another form of technology--much like a computer or a cell phone-- to learn about and integrate into your life.

Among the variety of subjects covered:

Ch. 1: Overview of Makes and Models
(This chapter provides a brief history, plus "a primer of the dozens of cat models, a quick look at important hardware and software variations, and guidance on selecting the right variety for your lifestyle".)

Ch. 2: Home Installation
(Obviously, how to introduce a cat into your home and to any other family members.)

Ch. 3: Daily Interaction
(This chapter covers "routine maintenance" and "the nuances of cat behavior, body language, and play preferences".)

Ch. 4: Basic Programming
(Good stuff here, including an "overview of factory-installed software [instinctive behaviors] and owner-installed software add-ons [training]".)

Ch. 5: Fuel Requirements
(Self-explanatory, but the specifics of which are absolutely vital to know.)

Ch. 6: Exterior Maintenance
(Helpfully answering such questions as, "How can I maintain a quality exterior finish?".)

Ch. 8: Interior Maintenance
(Plenty of helpful stuff here, including "how to monitor a cat's mechanical systems for signs of trouble and how to select an authorized service provider for technical support".)

Ch. 10: Advanced Functions
(This final chapter covers reproduction, "Feline Transport", "Old Age", and even, *weep*, "Obsolescence and Deactivation".)

Throughout, a veritable wealth of valuable information is delivered in a hip, whimsical style, with useful step-by-step instructions and good advice. And, just like any guide worth its salt, there are plenty of helpful schematic diagrams (such as those shown here, from my very own much-loved copy) to ensure that you understand what everything looks like, where it is, and what to do with it or how to deal with it.

Even if you're like me--and you already have a whole library of cat books, cat encyclopedias, cat picture books, and cat cartoon books--you almost certainly don't have one like this. I think that makes this one an absolute necessity. :)

GlamKitty catnip mousie rating: 5 out of 5 mousies, for its genre

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Leaping off the Edge... and into the Weird

It's hard working up much excitement about rereading most books; once a tale has been told and whatever suspense it held is gone, there's little incentive to spend scarce reading time in going over old ground. Like, meh.

If I am going to reread a book, though, there'd better be some pretty spectacular characters involved--ones that can reel me in despite the fact that I already know what's going to happen.

So, when I found myself on three separate flights over a four-day period last weekend--trusty Kindle tucked away in my purse as befitting such a faithful travel companion--I clicked through my existing e-library for something to alleviate the boredom of flying solo. My main requirement was that it be something I hadn't read in awhile, but would enjoy revisiting. (Even better, in terms of the blog, would be something I'd never gotten around to reviewing.) Lo and behold, I found just such a book. (And, since the sequel to my selection is set to drop at the end of next month, it's also a timely one. So, that's what we're gonna call a win-win. :))

*****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****     *****  

Although I can't technically say this with any degree of authority, I suspect that most people picture one of two things when thinking about the rural Deep South here in America. Many of them likely conjure up some Tara-esque ideal--an immense plantation house surrounded by lush trees and flowers, with genteel, white-frocked ladies wearing beribboned sunhats, and dapper, pale-suited men in straw boaters, lounging on verandas and idly sipping juleps. (Whether or not that's ever been a remotely accurate portrayal of any part of the South, I have no idea, but nowadays such an idyllic tableau is probably only to be found by going on one of those scenic antebellum tours.)

The other popular depiction is that of a dirt-poor family, living in a ramshackle house that's seen better decades... a hound dog or two lounging on the yard out front, a rusting old pickup on blocks under a shade tree, and some discarded appliances cast haphazardly in the overgrown backyard... with the females of the house clad in serviceable calico dresses or cut-off shorts and midriff-baring tops, and the fellows in beat-up jeans and the ubiquitous undershirt-tank tops (or "wifebeaters", as they're now oh-so-charmingly called).

Like everything else, the reality of modern rural life south of the Mason-Dixon line is probably a mixture of the two images... but leaning a bit more toward the second one. (Think about it. This is the 21st-century. Short of having a very good reason which I can't even imagine, no one in his or her right mind is going to sweat in a suit or flouncy dress on his/her own front porch, idly nursing a mint julep while swatting horseflies in the sultry heat, unless they're waiting for a cab. That's just not happening, people.) Plus, you don't have to live in the country, or the South, or even the U.S., for that matter, to know that there are a whole lot more common, ordinary, Joe-lunchboxes than there are fancy schmoes.

That's definitely the case in the Edge and the Broken--two fictional swathes of land encompassing rural Georgia (and then some), in author Ilona Andrews' 2009 release, On the Edge. (Not that this kind of realistic demographic should come as any big surprise to fans of Andrews' popular Urban Fantasy "Magic" series, of course, which also features a motley assortment of mostly have-not-so-much characters... though in the considerably-more urban setting of Atlanta.)

The Broken is very much a rural Everytown, USA, full of regular folks who shop at Wal-Mart, eat at McDonald's, and patronize their local banks, insurance agencies, cleaners, car dealers, and the like. Their children attend the small public schools. Police work at keeping the peace, and churches attempt to instill some sort of doctrine. There's a shortage of excitement; the arrival of a traveling fair is a big deal.

The Edge, on the other hand, is more like the dirt-poor image of the South above, because the people who live in the Edge have magic, but precious little else. There are shapeshifters, spell-casters, seers, and necromancers. And then, there are those who can "flash", producing a visual display of power serving as part force-field, part laser. People who live in the Edge do so because that's where their magic works; outside of the Edge--say, in the Broken--their magic ceases to function (and eventually dies, should they remain). So, the Edgers go to schools and take jobs in the Broken, then return home each night to where the magic lives. (Meanwhile, those living in the Broken are unawares of any magic, because they have none and have never seen it.)

Rose Drayton lives in the Edge. A young woman in her early 20s, she drives her old truck across the border each morning to work for a commercial cleaning operation all day, then drives back home in the evening so she can take care of her two younger brothers, Jack and Georgie. There's never enough money; two growing boys always need something. Still--and with major echoes of the Waltons, here--the Draytons are mostly happy; they have each other.

Until fairly recently, though, their lives had been anything but peaceful. When Rose foolishly let everyone else see how powerful her flashing ability was a couple years earlier, their lives became a living hell, as people sought, by turns, to kill her (and her family), capture (in order to sell) her, or tried to marry (or just mate with) her... all because her power was so rare as to be something seen only once in a hundred years, if that. From that point on, the Draytons had one valuable possession--Rose.

Rose (and her family) had other plans, though, and after rejecting a passel of suitors (and simultaneously causing the more determined ones no small degree of pain and embarrassment), defeating a number of aggressors, and even killing a couple of particularly vicious ones, Rose and family are now left mostly to their own devices in the lawless world of the Edge. Until suddenly, that is, everything starts to change.

Rose meets an appealing--but vaguely off-kilter--man at the Wal-Mart in the Broken. (Georgie and Jack are hooked on the handsome stranger; she, not so much.) She accidentally hits another man in the road with her truck--a man who subsequently vanishes. People start disappearing from the Edge. Animals behave strangely. There are all sorts of signs that some never-before-seen evil has made its way into the area.

And then... well, then a mysterious stranger shows up on Rose's lawn, dressed in the garb of nobles, straight out of the Weird. (What? Oh, did I forget to mention the third-and-final division in this kinda-like-ours-but-not-quite world?)  The Weird is the entirely magical land, and it's something of a hybrid--modern enough, except that the inhabitants don't have any electricity. So, they ride horses, don't have power-anythings, and everyone's apparel hails from at least two centuries ago. There are castles, and an entire class of nobility, and, well, other stuff like that. The Weirders are all quite powerful and skilled at their magics, though, and just like the residents of the Edge, they can function fine in the Edge, but lose their powers once they cross into the Broken.

Anyway, after determining that this stranger surely hails from the Weird (mostly because they just don't grow men like that in her world), Rose comes to the conclusion that the drop-dead handsome noble on her lawn must be there for the sole purpose of having her--marrying her (or whatever it takes to get the job done)--and we already know just how she feels about that. Eventually the two of them reach an agreement of sorts, though: he, Declan, will help protect her and her family while they deal with whatever evil has made its way into the Edge, which service she will repay by giving him the chance to win her hand... but only upon the successful completion of three tests. (So, if he passes all three tests, he gets himself a spunky Edge wife. If he fails, though, it's back to the Weird for him, still a lonely, single man.)

What follows is an exciting-fun-scary adventure, as the little group learns just what the evil thing really is, what it wants, and how it plans to accomplish its nefarious schemes. (It is truly evil. And repulsive. And bad-nasty-nightmare kind of scary. Good stuff.) And, obviously, there's also plenty of bantering, teasing, arguing, and flirting between Rose and Declan, as she contrives increasingly-difficult tests for him, while he attempts to win her over the old-fashioned way (with his charm and innate hunkiness).

It's really the charm of all the characters which drives this story and makes it such a compelling read, though. Andrews has given each character an engaging personality, and created a believable family dynamic in which they interact. Rose is smart, long-suffering, kind, cunning... and once-bitten/twice-shy when it comes to the whole relationship thing. Little Georgie is a fragile creature, a necromancer with a tender heart, who can't bear to see things die. Jack (who shifts into a little lynx--and OMGosh, how much do I love that?!?) is wily, curious, and courageous. (The two young boys are both irresistible, and their interactions with each other, with Rose, and with Declan made me melt like an ice cream cone on a sweltering August day... which never happens to me and kid characters.) And of course there's Declan, who, well... he's truly the stuff of fairy tales (or romance novels), with his strapping build, flowing locks, wicked sense of humor, and sheer Raw Masculine Appeal. (Sorry for the caps, but... really, he's all that and a bag of chips.) How they deal with each other--as well as with various other residents of all three "worlds"--makes for some some thoroughly entertaining reading.

On the Edge definitely falls under the Paranormal Romance heading, but I kind of hate to pigeonhole it that way. There's enough action going on--plenty of magic and violence, plus a little politics and history--so that, to me, it fits nearly as neatly under the Urban Fantasy umbrella. Labels aside, though, it's really just a fun, fast-paced read... the kind of thing worth another look, even, for the pure pleasure of encountering these delightful characters all over again.

GlamKitty catnip mousie rating: 4.25 out of 5 mousies

[Note: The sequel to On the Edge--Bayou Moon--will be out late Sept. 2010, featuring a different group of characters from the same worlds.]

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Love, Hate, and Fear in the Big Apple

At the end of the day, it all boils down to love (or lust), doesn't it? Well, maybe not for everyone; some people are perfectly happy without such pesky distractions cluttering up their lives, of course. But for most of us, it's safe to say that we're pretty much at the whims of our hearts (or libidos, for the more cynically-minded out there). Whatever that ineffable spark is--the thing that makes our stomachs do crazy somersaults and causes a few other parts to get all warm and tingly, once we experience it we might as well accept that we're goners, and just buckle up to go along for the ride.

Unfortunately, though, our hearts and libidos as often as not decide to be bloomin' idiots, neither knowing nor caring what's best for us. Compounding matters, too many of us just aren't that mentally or emotionally stable, to start with... and that, naturally, is where a whole mess of problems begin.

New York City police detective Ellie Hatcher finds herself investigating multiple incidents of just such love/lust gone bad, in Alafair Burke's latest thriller, 212.

It all starts--badly, for her--with a flashy case involving one of the "beautiful people". When Ellie and her partner, JJ Rogan, get called to the scene of this particular murder, they encounter a media nightmare: the handsome bodyguard of über-wealthy real estate mogul (and mover-&-shaker, man-about-town) Sam Sparks is dead, in his boss's showplace apartment, in his boss's bed. When Sparks shows up and demanding access to his luxury penthouse apartment--showing no remorse over the death of his employee, but voicing plenty of annoyance at all the inconvenience he's being put through--he and Ellie get off on the wrong foot in a big way, resulting in Sparks being escorted in handcuffs through the hovering media circus to the police station for a little chat. (Their little contretemps is something that will continue to haunt Ellie throughout the remainder of the story, including, at one point, an overnight stay in the hoosegow for her.)

Fast-forwarding a few months, finds Ellie and Rogan making next-to-no progress on the case. They've checked out Sparks--as thoroughly as they've been able, given the restraints placed on them via the hard work of Sparks' high-dollar lawyers--and haven't unearthed any likely motives. They haven't come up with any other suspects, either, since the fingerprints pulled from the room produced no hits. Since all their efforts have yielded less-than-impressive results, their boss puts them back on new assignments, forcing them to back-burner the Sparks case.

Meanwhile, a student at NYU has just found something very alarming while engaging in a little surreptitious web-surfing during a boring class. A popular website, with unique threads for juicy gossip from different universities all over the country, has an area devoted to NYU... and meek, mild-mannered Megan Gunther has just come across a series of posts, about her. Her daily schedule--at school, after classes, and at home--is there for everyone to see, both times and whereabouts. Worse, the anonymous poster threatens that he/she is "watching". Understandably freaked out, Megan goes to the police, only to be told that the website has been investigated before, and that--due to the nature of the untraceable posts which the site owner actually encourages--there's really nothing they can do for her. Megan returns home, scared and dejected.

Ellie and Rogan are equally dismayed and horrified to learn about all this the next day, after they're called to the scene of a new case--the murder of one college girl, and the vicious stabbing of the girl's roommate, who can only describe their attacker as "a guy in a ski mask". Of more help is her telling them about the dead girl's ex-boyfriend, who was still bitter about his "ex" status. Tracking him down doesn't prove easy, though, since the roommate only knows his first name.

The tension escalates the following day when the detectives pick up another case, this one involving the murder of a young, seemingly-successful female realtor in a swanky hotel. After finding out that her co-workers can offer no ideas, a laborious search through the woman's phone records eventually leads them to a most unexpected place--an escort service called Prestige Parties, which supposedly caters to an exclusive (safe, rich) clientele. Even more surprising, they learn that another one of their victims has connections to the same establishment. (Without going into details, let me say that I really like the way the interactions between the detectives and PP's management staff go down; it definitely isn't one of those "oh, I've read this so many times before" kind of scenes.)

Feeling helpless against a threat they still can't figure out, the pair then races all over the "212" (the NY area code encompassing the action in the story), tracking down leads and questioning anyone who might know something about the dead women, the (now-missing) survivor, an artist (who is somehow connected to everyone else), a district court judge, their own lieutenant, and even--coming around full-circle--Sam Sparks, himself. Unless/until they can get to the bottom of everything--preferably sooner rather than later--Ellie and Rogan know that more women will be in danger of dying, as well as anyone else who might happen to get in the murderer's way.

The mystery is, of course, eventually solved, and we see that love and lust--the "acceptable" as well as the twisted--are, indeed, at the root of all the assorted evils committed during the course of 212. (Trust me, that one statement that won't spoil anything.) But just who does what, and why, manages to hold some surprises not only for the detectives, but for the reader, as well.

Ms. Burke--the daughter of famous crime novelist James Lee Burke--now has six books in print (three featuring NYC detective Ellie Hatcher, and three legal thrillers featuring attorney Samantha Kincaid), and I've read and enjoyed each one shortly after it's come off the press. Both heroines are smart, likeable, "real" women; they make mistakes, they say or do things they sometimes shouldn't, and they don't know every single thing. They have ordinary conversations, eat real food, and are involved in believable relationships (familial, platonic, and romantic). It's easy to imagine being friends with them, and that alone makes these books worth picking up. More than that, though, Burke always delivers a terrific yarn--clever, unputdownable stories that I think I'm just on the verge of figuring out... only to discover that there's another layer, something else going on that I didn't even suspect.

It all adds up to an entertaining, intelligent, and exciting read... and I'm always more than happy to recommend one of those. :)

GlamKitty catnip mousie rating: 4.5 out of 5 mousies